Researching on the Cheap: Part 2 – Search Engines and Search Techniques

Last time we talked about being prepared to organize the materials that we find online. Now we need to talk about how we find those materials. In my original class outline this part was called “finding the goodies”.

In the old days, before the internet, I probably would have gone to an encyclopedia to do my initial research. The internet equivalent of the encyclopedia is Wikipedia. It is not the be all and end all authority, but it can be helpful when you really don’t know where to start your search. Sometimes you may even need to resort to a textbook in a public library. Why? Well, let me give you an example. I have been teaching this class for many years. Most of the people who take my class have at least a vague idea of what they want to learn about, and many come to class hoping for very specific recommendations. I schedule enough time for the class so that I have time to help individual students. But one year at Pennsic a gentleman came in the class who really didn’t know what he wanted to study. He thought that he might be interested in the 12th century, somewhere in Europe, but he wasn’t sure. What would I suggest he do? Borrow a European History textbook, and read it. See if there is something there that excites you; an event, a ruler, a natural disaster? If you really are totally clue free, you should try to find one in a book. Why a book? These sort of textbooks are usually designed to cram hundreds or thousands of years, into a few pages. They are a summary of events that should give you enough of an overview to get started.

The first internet information that you will need to have is which search engines to use. There are many search engines available, but some are better than others. Years ago my favorite search engine used to be Yahoo. It is still decent and I will use it sometimes, but my current search engine for starting my search is Google. That is where I do my initial research. If you have a favorite, and you are getting the results that you want, don’t be afraid to use it, but you may want to compare the results of more than one search engine, just to see the differences. We will talk about search terms later.

Once I have pretty much exhausted the information that I am getting on Google I will switch over to Google Scholar. This search engine is a whole different beast. It searches academic journals and sources for academic articles and references. Some of these articles are free and available as pdf downloads, and some are available online for a fee. Some public library systems and most college library systems have subscriptions to some of the special academic journal systems. An article usually comes with a significant summary, which will usually give you a very good idea of whether it is worth tracking down or not. There are also some systems that you have to register for, but the information is free for registered users.

Next time: Search Terms – The Great Mystery


English: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)